Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Clarence Willcock - Liberal Hero
If you were asked to name the most influential Liberals of the post-war era, Clarence Willcock would be unlikely to feature on your list.
Yet it is thanks to Willcock that wartime ID cards were abolished. Today's edition of BBC Radio 4's The Long View recalled the occasion in 1950 when Clarence Willcock, who happened to be a member of the Liberal Party, was stopped by a policeman for speeding while driving through North Finchley. The policeman demanded to see Willcock's ID card and he refused to produce it on principle.
(The Long View will be repeated on Radio 4 at 9.30pm this evening, or you can listen to it online for the next seven days here or here).
ID cards had originally been introduced as a temporary wartime emergency measure, but survived the war because of 'mission creep', as more and more government departments found their use expedient.
Willcock's act of defiance became a test case at the High Court, where Lord Justice Goddard gave the opinion that for the police to demand ID cards from all and sundry was wholly unreasonable. ID cards were consequently abolished in 1952.
If New Labour succeeds in re-introducing ID cards, I trust that Liberal Democrat members will follow Clarence Willcock's example. He demonstrated what a principled stand by one ordinary citizen can achieve.